Unsocial Media?

I’m in writing mode now. But ten minutes ago I was flitting mindlessly around Twitter and Facebook, seeing what was happening in the world. You don’t need to tell me this is a waste of my time, of course I know that. By ‘waste of my time’ I naturally mean ‘waste of my writing time.’

A few months ago, I felt so guilty about the length of time I was spending on social media that I deleted both my Twitter and Facebook accounts. I think this lasted all of one day before I panicked and reinstated them. It’s sort of disturbing to know that ‘do you want to permanently delete your account?’ doesn’t actually mean what you’d think it would, as even after choosing this option your account can be restored.

It’s depressing how social media owns us. We all know how sharing pictures of our kids and our houses and our beautiful pets can make us look needy, narcissistic and fake. Who hasn’t been scrolling through their Facebook or Twitter feed at one stage or another and thought, ‘oh my God, this is a pile of rubbish, why am I still on social media?’

We’re told that social media is ruining the ability of people to make real-life friendships and conversations. Well, I’m sorry, but social media is not the sole scapegoat for people being lonely. I’m sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t live in the same town as any of my family members. For many of us, it’s not a case of going up the road for a quiet natter with family or friends (I have one close friend living in town at the moment). People are out living their own lives in every corner of the world, and it’s social media that is keeping them all connected.

Social media has helped me in three areas of my life: as a mother, a writer and a person with a disability. When Ali was born, my friend added me to some wonderful parenting groups where clueless first time parents like me were asking questions about parenthood. Often I don’t comment: instead I ‘lurk’, nodding silently in agreement with other mums. In fact it was another mother’s open admission on Facebook that she was struggling with PND that ultimately motivated me to get the help I needed, take care of myself and write a blog about it. Knowing that I was not alone really helped. I also joined a reflux survivors’ page when Ali had reflux and seeing other parents come out the other side really gave me hope during this difficult time.

As a writer, being present on social media can be both rewarding and tiring. I’m still trying to find the balance between suave self-promotion and being interesting without just being plain annoying. In terms of rounding up an audience for my blog, I’ve found Twitter to be especially useful. Like most Twitter users, I haven’t a  clue who half of my followers are, but some have proven to be really useful contacts. For example I met a lady on Twitter who helped me find some secondary reading for writing my novel. I met another lady who’s teaching me about chocolate and making material accessible for the visually impaired.

Finally, social media is opening up the world for so many people with disabilities right now. Whereas before peer support mainly involved occasional meetings or coffee mornings, people with disabilities can now communicate with each other on a daily basis. This is so important given that there are nearly three thousand people with disabilities living in inappropriate nursing homes or hospitals and thousands more, be it through lack of transport or Personal Assistance, trapped in their own homes. Social media is becoming an increasingly popular tool for PWD challenging injustice in their everyday lives, and as a result, our stories are being highlighted by mainstream sources including local and national newspapers. People who were once voiceless are now becoming very vocal, all from the comfort of their own homes. The inability to get out does not necessarily mean the inability to participate, to count, and to matter.

So although I should probably curtail my time skulking around on Facebook and Twitter, I’m not ashamed to acknowledge that social media has helped me become a better mother, a more conscientious writer and a fiercer activist. I’m so grateful to be part of a virtual community that accepts and helps me. It certainly doesn’t beat face-to-face contact but it does make the world that little bit more accessible. Not just for people with disabilities, but for everyone.

 

Ps. If you enjoyed this blog, ‘like’ and ‘share’. Joking!

Pps. Well, half-joking anyway

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Birds of a Feather

 

“Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted by the past. The traditions of all the dead generations weigh like a nightmare on the brain of the living”.

Karl Marx (1979)

 

 

I carry the weight of a dark and cruel history on my bony little shoulders.

Every day, I fight a small battle in some shape or form. Sometimes it’s because somebody has skipped ahead of me in the queue in the shop. Sometimes it’s a waitress asking my husband what I would like for dinner. Sometimes it’s the need to feel that people take you seriously as an activist.

It’s all too easy to forget that I’m not the only one who’s perceived as different, that I’m not the only one fighting for equality in a society that indirectly labels me as inconvenient. If you think I’m being dramatic, just look at the recent coverage of Johanne Powell’s story (Johanne Powell is a mother and carer to her severely impaired daughter, Siobhan). I’m not disputing Johanne’s right to her story, but surely Siobhan, and so many in her position, should be given the chance to somehow tell their story too?

Every time I hear a story, be it about a wheelchair user who couldn’t board a train, or a person living in an institution simply because their home isn’t adapted, I feel an inexplicable anger, and also a sense of being victimised. I always think to myself: what if that had been me? It’s only luck that it isn’t me. And what can I do about it?

I often think about my upbringing and how often my parents used the word ‘fight’, ‘It was a long fight but Sarah made it into primary school.’ ‘It was a fight but we got Sarah botox treatment’ (for my legs, not my face – this is all natural). For many parents, and subsequently children, everything is a fight in a world where cutbacks are the norm. Sadly, parents still have to fight to have their disabled (by society) children accepted into mainstream school. Fight for the supports their children need to excel. And I ask myself – what exactly has changed in fifty years?

Sure, some things are improving – for example, Tullamore is becoming more accessible, students with disabilities are now going onto third level education and employment, sometimes setting up their own businesses, having families of their own and so on. But none of this falls into our laps. It is hard work having to constantly prove yourself in a society that expects little of you. And, *apols for harping on about this,* the fact that the United Nations Convention of People with Disabilities has not yet been ratified nearly ten years after it was signed is a clear indication of how (un)seriously our government views the needs of people with disabilities.

As far as I can see, we have internalised our history – please correct me if I’m wrong, but –

  • The word ‘handicap’ derived from the term ‘hand in cap’ is deemed offensive now, but is technically still correct as every year thousands of people with disabilities live in fear of losing their Personal Assistants, losing benefits and medical cards. As long as I worked in the disability sector, the Disability Federation of Ireland and the Centre for Independent Living made pre-budget submissions (elaborate begging letters) outlining the damage further cuts would cause. Obviously government didn’t care;
  • Despite one damning HIQA report after another, residential homes are still alive and well. Minister Mc Grath reckons that they will all be closed by 2020, but according to a HSE report published in 2011, more people are entering residential home than leaving them;
  • I’m a young’un, but I could safely bet that many disability activists were campaigning and protesting for the exact same reasons twenty years ago as we are now;
  • Disability/impairment is still viewed as one of the worst things to happen to you (cheers for that, Me Before You). it’s a tragedy that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, and wouldn’t it be great if there was a cure, and have you heard of these robotic legs blah blah blah. It seems that cures are more favourable than respect, understanding and acceptance. What does that say about us?

I know that I am the sole author of this blog, but I’m not sure I’d have the confidence to blog at all were it not for the support of all my readers, especially those who have experienced discrimination as I have. So the next time you are raising a grievance, be it because you were excluded from a building or public transport, or because some prat doesn’t think you should be a parent, or because you’re being blocked from getting your dream job, you have a responsibility to keep fighting.

But don’t worry.

You are not alone.

You have all of us behind you.